The goalie from Sherwood Park, Alta., had just played his first game ever for Canada and it was not quite as easy as some might have expected it would be against Norway at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. “They surprised me,” Ward said after Canada’s 4-2 win on Monday. “They played extremely well and a lot better than what they get credit for.
“That first period they came out firing and controlling the play. We had to grit it out throughout the game to take over.”
Canada entered the third period tied with a Norwegian team that featured just one NHLer before captain Shane Doan scored the winner 22 seconds into the final period.
Doan, a veteran forward with the Phoenix Coyotes, has been here before and knows that close calls are bound to happen early at the tournament.
Take, for example, the 2-2 tie Canada had with Denmark in 2003 before winning the gold medal.
“Denmark, I think, had two guys that were Nike reps that came out of retirement and they tied us,” said Doan. “As much as Canada should win every game, there’s always going to be the one game thing.
“It’s a big game for them to play and they always play well against us.”
That said, the Canadians know they must be sharper when they finish the preliminary round with a game against Slovakia. Canada beat Germany in its opening game Saturday.
News arrived after Monday’s game that Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf had committed to joining the team. Phaneuf will certainly be of some help if he can get to Russia in time for Wednesday’s game.
The Slovaks are loaded with top players like Marian Gaborik, Miro Satan, Pavol Demitra and Marian Hossa.
“We definitely can’t come out the way we came out tonight,” said forward Rick Nash, who opened the scoring for Canada and had 10 shots on goal. “We’ll find ourselves in a bigger hole than what we were.”
Jason Chimera and Justin Williams also had goals for Canada (2-0) while Lars Erik Spets and Jonas Andersen replied for Norway (0-2).
The Norwegian fans at Mytischi Arena certainly felt the conditions were right for their team to pull off another major upset at this tournament. Seven years ago in St. Petersburg, Russia, Norway beat Canada 4-3 in what is considered the biggest victory in the country’s history.
“We talked about that because nothing is impossible,” said Norwegian goalie Pal Grotnes. “We had that in mind.”
They started the game by sitting back and limiting Canada’s chances early.
Spets opened the scoring 9:29 into the first period when he spun around with the puck and beat Ward with a low shot.
“I think the first 10 minutes we were the best team out there and creating the most chances,” said Norway forward Patrick Thoresen, a member of the Edmonton Oilers. “I think we caught them a little (off guard).”
Canadian defenceman Mike Commodore says coach Andy Murray had told his players that they shouldn’t take Norway lightly. Even if Commodore hadn’t been warned, he knew he needed to be sharp after Spets’s goal.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for both teams we’ve played even though they’re not a household name in hockey,” said Commodore. “They play hockey.”
Nash made it 1-1 at 13:24 with Canada on a power play.
He came out from the side of the net and fired the puck past Grotnes, who was without his stick after being bumped by Doan.
“I’m just trying to be in front there and create a distraction of any sort,” Doan said with a sly grin. “If the goalie happens to catch his stick on the back of your leg and drag it across, that always makes it a little easier for Nasher.”
Chimera gave Canada its first lead less than two minutes later with a wraparound goal off the rush.
But the Norwegians held their own through the second period. Andersen’s wrist shot from the high slot tied the game 2-2 at 12:14 with Canada’s Jonathan Toews in the penalty box for continuing to play after having his helmet knocked off.
There were chances at both ends towards the end of the period, but the goalies were playing well. Grotnes made a glorious cross-crease pad stop on Nash before turning away Chimera on a short-handed breakaway.
It was tied 2-2 heading to the third period and the Norwegians were thinking about an upset.
But there was no panic among the Canadians.
“We came out confident,” Nash said. “We knew we had to win this game. There’s no other result that we could expect of ourselves.”
Doan’s goal early in the third period and Williams’s insurance marker made sure it happened.
With two wins in two games, Team Canada still feels its on track.
“We’re over here and trying to do a job for Canada and bring back a gold,” said Ward.